TUCSON, Arizona -- The U.S. Army Phoenix Recruiting Battalion partnered with the U.S. Hispanic Leadership Institute held educational interventions at four Tucson high schools in the form of the Student Leadership Summits. The goals of the summits were to promote post secondary education among Hispanic students and demonstrate how the Army can help them prepare mentally and financially to take on the challenges of college.

Statistics show 27 percent of Latinos age 25 and over have less than a ninth-grade education compared to 4.2 percent of non-Hispanic whites according to the Journal of Career and Technical Education. Among ethnic groups, Latinos have the highest high school dropout rate. Although Hispanics are the fastest growing ethnic population in the United States, they "trail other ethnic groups in postsecondary attendance and completion." With Hispanics as a group comprising 35 percent of the population under 18 and with more than half the jobs today requiring college-level skills, there's a strong need for an intervention among Hispanic high school students.

USHLI is one of the most powerful recognized Latino organizations in the country and has gained a strong reputation through its leadership development programs conducted in more than 40 states. It serves as a stable presence in hundreds of communities by promoting empowerment and civic responsibility, said Tammy Deavours, director of administration for USHLI. The primary messaging of the summit is to encourage students to improve academic performance, graduate and pursue post secondary education or training.

Since the U.S. Army places a high value on academics and leadership, the partnership with USHLI is a sensible strategy, said Lt. Col. Jennifer McAfee, Phoenix Recruiting Battalion commander.

"We are in the business of making leaders. Many promising students in the Hispanic community don't realize the number of opportunities they have in the U.S. Army. But we are confident that by teaming up with USHLI we can bridge that gap," said McAfee. "Our joint venture in Tucson has energized us to seek other venues where we can continue the partnership."

Tucson was a perfect stop for the leadership summit, since Hispanics make up 35 percent of the Pima County population. The four targeted schools included Desert View High School, Sunnyside High School, Cholla Magnet High School and Pueblo High School. During the four-day event, more than 6,000 students attended leadership development training, a financial aid seminar and participated in a Regional Career Day/College Recruitment Fair.

Army recruiters from the Tucson area were on hand to raise awareness among students of the Army's support for education through its stay in school initiative and the various educational programs offered to Soldiers while on active duty and after they complete their military enlistment. Students were reminded that in the Army, continuing education is a requirement not an option. Recruiters also talked to students about the Army's continual pursuit of leadership development and the service's various career opportunities. Recruiters were also quick to point out that the Army provides more scholarships than any institution in the United States. Well over $280 million in ROTC scholarships were awarded students at over 270 colleges in 2012.
Recruiters also used the opportunity to promote the Army's emphasis on education message to teachers, guidance counselors and school administrators during the summit.

Educators learned about the Army's March2 Success initiative - the free on-line college test prep program - and the Army's emphasis on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) career fields for those students opting for military service. These STEM field training opportunities, educators discovered, can prove invaluable for Soldiers returning to the highly competitive civilian job market.

Sgt. David Juarez, an Infantry Soldier and Tucson recruiter said, "As Hispanics join the service they become ambassadors to their culture and their community."

Juarez points out that, "The Hispanic culture is nationwide. As Latino Soldiers return home on leave, complete their tour or retire from the Army, we are the success stories for the community. We are that someone 'that's made it' and serve as positive role model for others to follow."

When talking individually with leadership summit attendees, Juarez says he stressed the importance of getting an education. "I told students that they need to set out a plan with achievable goals and map out how to achieve those goals by completing small objectives," Juarez said. He explained to students how the Army can help them reach those goals by building a solid career path while in the Army and utilizing tuition assistance to gain the required educational credentials. By combining these two objectives with real world experience, Juarez says, students can better prepare themselves for the civilian job market.

"All the students we talked with were extremely receptive to our message," Juarez said. "And by partnering with USHLI, the program allowed us to reach many more students than we do on a normal school set up."